Eliminating The Humanities Decimates Every Student’s Education

&l;p&g;Attempts to strip &q;non-productive&q; majors and programs from colleges goes back many years. Amputating sociology, English, history, philosophy, the classics, and even art and music, always done in the name of &q;economizing,&q; has been a theme of politicians who claim simply to be applying business principles to higher education. In reality, the motivation is often trying to get rid of troublesome departments that sometimes inspire students to think critically about social systems, culture and history.

After I wrote about the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point controversy a few entries back, I was amazed at the response. I began to look for other examples where politicians had tried to cut the heart out of their university systems. I was surprised to see how often it&s;s happened. Not always successful, it still demonstrates a hostility to higher education that, unfortunately, seems to fit well with the anti-factual, anti-science and anti-reality attitude of the current administration and the far right. It also reflects a growing idea that colleges and universities should be run like businesses (much the way some insist that government should be run by businessmen).

Of course, every institution has to be fiscally responsible to ensure its future. Plenty of colleges, especially small ones, haven&s;t survived for any number of reasons. But when states slash the budgets of their university systems, focusing on eliminating humanities in favor of more &q;productive&q; majors and departments, they are erasing their reason for being.

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&l;p class=&q;tweet_line&q;&g;Whatever you think of higher education, one of its main roles is to preserve and transmit culture while adapting to and being changed by it. From libraries to classrooms, each generation of teachers and students communicates ideas and demonstrates theories that have evolved over thousands of years of civilization, now more and more including non-Western and non-white cultures. Since education isn&s;t a zero-sum game, all of the collected wisdom and foolishness of the world comes crashing together in college. One way or another, students leave (ideally) with a greater sense of the world and who they are in it. The back and forth of educated debate is both a cause and a result of where we have come from and where we are now.

Shearing off humanities because they don&s;t deliver the goods impoverishes every student no matter what his or her background. And it&s;s a mistake to set up a humanities vs STEM contest either. Both are important. Anyone who&s;s watched Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson knows that. We need all of these things, even if they aren&s;t packed with students. Looking at them solely with a bookkeeper&s;s gimlet eye makes no sense.

And yet, it&s;s happening, more and more often. College presidencies are being turned over to businesspeople and even big donors instead of individuals who have come up through the ranks as if anyone can run a university. The University of Oklahoma just &l;a href=&q;https://www.chronicle.com/article/Former-Oil-ExecutiveBig/242923&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;announced&l;/a&g; that James L. Gallogly, former oil executive and a major donor, will be the institution&s;s next president. Edinboro University, one of Pennsylvania&s;s public universities, has just &l;a href=&q;https://www.chronicle.com/article/A-Tough-Talking-President/242843&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;forced&l;/a&g; its&a;nbsp;president, a&a;nbsp;former Navy man and RIT dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology, to resign. His idea of taking a chainsaw to a surgery &l;a href=&q;https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-President-Has-Spoken-and/242881&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;didn&s;t sit well&l;/a&g; with the faculty or students, as reported in the &l;em&g;Chronicle of Higher Education&l;/em&g;:

&l;/p&g;&l;blockquote&g;&l;span&g;Like many such plans, Edinboro&a;rsquo;s cuts low-enrolled programs and places bets on familiar cash cows, such as a new master&a;rsquo;s in business administration. …&l;/span&g;News leaked about a few programs, particularly the beloved &l;a href=&q;http://www.edinboronow.com/article/music-majors-speak-out-about-program-cuts&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;music major.&l;/a&g; But Edinboro did not acknowledge that it had done away with 31 degree programs or concentrations within majors, some of which had scarcely any students, until &l;em&g;The Chronicle&l;/em&g; obtained the information through a public-records request. Anticipating this article, Walker sent out a campuswide email this month, listing the programs that the university had cut.&l;/blockquote&g;

Other examples of governors and politicians riding roughshod over academia include:

In 2008, &q;&l;a href=&q;http://time.com/3685071/college-majors-employment-graduation-rates/&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;Indiana&l;/a&g; State&a;nbsp;&l;span&g;Indiana State University was among the first schools to undertake &l;/span&g;&l;a href=&q;http://www.indstate.edu/academicaffairs/program_prioritization.htm&q; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;a comprehensive review&l;/a&g;&l;span&g; of its offerings, from 2006 to 2008, which resulted in the elimination or suspension of 48 academic programs, including art history, German, and journalism as it sought to trim a bloat of offerings that had led to 8,000 empty seats in classes.&q;&l;/span&g;

Also in 2008, the Washington &l;em&g;Post&a;nbsp;&l;/em&g;reported on Texas Gov. Rick Perry&s;s efforts to &q;reform&q; education in that state.

&l;blockquote&g;T&l;span&g;hat day marked the beginning of an effort &a;mdash; spearheaded by the governor, one of his six-figure campaign donors and a conservative think tank &a;mdash; to re-engineer Texas&a;rsquo;s leading public universities to become more like businesses, driven by efficiency and profitability.&l;/span&g;&l;span&g;The &l;a href=&q;https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/rick-perry-wages-an-assault-on-the-ivory-tower/2011/07/26/gIQAyfrvsI_story.html?utm_term=.bab6c65da22e&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;initiative&l;/a&g; stayed pretty much under the radar until last fall , when it became public that Perry&a;rsquo;s alma mater, Texas A&a;amp;M University, had compiled a spreadsheet ranking faculty members according to whether they were earning their keep or costing the school money. The university already had rankled professors with a program that paid bonuses based on anonymous student evaluations…&l;/span&g;&l;/blockquote&g;

In 2010, The New York &l;em&g;Times&l;/em&g; &l;a href=&q;https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/education/05languages.html&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;report&l;/a&g;ed on the elimination of foreign languages at colleges and universities across the country.

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Gov. Rick Scott of Florida in 2011&a;nbsp;&l;a href=&q;http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2011/10/10/rick-scott-wants-to-shift-university-funding-away-from-some-majors/&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;ridiculed&l;/a&g; the need for anthropologists (despite his daughter&s;s being one) in the &l;em&g;Herald Tribune&l;/em&g;:

&l;blockquote&g;Future anthropology majors be warned, Gov. Rick Scott does not believe such programs contribute much to Florida&s;s economy and wants them on the losing end of university funding decisions….&l;/blockquote&g;

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&l;blockquote&g;Leading Scott&s;s list of changes: Shifting funding to degrees that have the best job prospects, weeding out unproductive professors and rethinking the system that offers faculty job security.&l;/blockquote&g;

It&s;s not just public universities, either.

&l;blockquote&g;&l;span&g;Late last month (Oct. 2012), administrators &a;nbsp;&l;a href=&q;https://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/article/OLLU-students-argue-for-cut-majors-4017839.php&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;announced&l;/a&g; plans to phase out majors in religious studies, art, drama, human sciences, human sciences (graduate program), marketing, Mexican American studies, natural science, organizational leadership (undergraduate program), philosophy, social studies and Spanish over the next four years, after current students graduate. A sociology graduate program has been mothballed, too.&l;/span&g;&l;/blockquote&g;

And it&s;s not always the humanities that get cut. In 2013, according to &l;em&g;Inside Higher Ed&l;/em&g;, The University of Southern Maine &l;a href=&q;https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/10/03/departments-under-threat-few-majors-physicists-say-value-isnt-reflected-numbers&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;proposed&l;/a&g; eliminating its physics department, using what it calls the &q;rule of five,&q; which targets departments with five or fewer majors for elimination.

&l;blockquote&g;Some proponents of the discipline say it&a;rsquo;s a shortsighted move, and, like similar initiatives in other states, could contribute to the country&a;rsquo;s dearth of qualified candidates for science-related jobs. The value of physics &a;ndash; a &a;ldquo;foundational&a;rdquo; science &a;ndash; isn&a;rsquo;t tied to enrollment alone, they say.&l;/blockquote&g;

In 2015, Rider University in NJ &l;a href=&q;http://www.nj.com/education/2015/10/rider_university_slashing_13_majors_laying_off_pro.html&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;slashed&l;/a&g; 13 majors, including

&l;blockquote&g;&l;span&g;…art and art history, advertising, American studies, business education, French, geosciences, German, marine science, philosophy, piano and web design. The bachelor of arts program in&a;nbsp;economics and the graduate program in&a;nbsp;organizational leadership will also be eliminated. (&l;em&g;nj.com&l;/em&g;)&l;/span&g;&l;/blockquote&g;

The University of North Carolina system &l;a href=&q;http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2015/05/board-of-governors-eliminates-46-degree-programs-across-unc-system&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;eliminated&l;/a&g; 46 degree programs in 2015. A revealing statement from a Board member in the &l;em&g;Daily Tar Heel&l;/em&g;:&a;nbsp;&l;span&g;&a;ldquo;We&a;rsquo;re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.&a;rdquo;&l;/span&g;

According to the &l;em&g;Daily Nous&l;/em&g;, t&l;span&g;he Board of Trustees of Western Illinois University (WIU), following up on its &l;/span&g;&l;a href=&q;http://dailynous.com/2016/05/27/philosophy-at-western-illinois-targeted/&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;previously announced plans&l;/a&g;&l;span&g;, ignored &l;/span&g;&l;a href=&q;http://dailynous.com/2016/05/30/help-philosophy-at-western-illinois/&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;substantial opposition&l;/a&g;&l;span&g; and &l;/span&g;&l;a href=&q;http://www.mcdonoughvoice.com/news/20160610/wiu8200cuts-four-majors&q; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;voted&l;/a&g;&l;span&g;&a;nbsp;unanimously to&a;nbsp;&l;a href=&q;http://dailynous.com/2016/06/13/western-illinois-university-loses-its-philosophy-major/&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;eliminate&l;/a&g; its school&a;rsquo;s philosophy major (along with majors in African-American studies, religious studies, and women&a;rsquo;s studies).&l;/span&g;








Aside from the Visigothic nature of these proposals, there&s;s another critical aspect of this hostility to anything that&s;s not bringing in the bucks or earning its keep, however that&s;s defined: As Paula Krebs writes in the Washington &l;em&g;Post&l;/em&g;,

&l;blockquote&g;&l;a href=&q;https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/wisconsin-is-trying-to-segregate-higher-education-into-the-haves-and-have-nots/2018/03/21/8cd67ac0-2886-11e8-b79d-f3d931db7f68_story.html?utm_term=.92c25f845a8d&a;amp;wpisrc=nl_opinions&a;amp;wpmm=1&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;Here&a;rsquo;s the takeaway&l;/a&g;: If you are a working-class student, a first-generation college student, someone without the means to get you to a private college or to a public research university, then you should be channeled into job training.

This latest, and most frightening, move to segregate higher education into the haves and the have-nots is coming from, not surprisingly, Gov. Scott Walker&a;rsquo;s Wisconsin.&l;/blockquote&g;

There are more examples, but the trend seems clear.&a;nbsp;&l;em&g;Time&l;/em&g; magazine &l;a href=&q;http://time.com/3685071/college-majors-employment-graduation-rates/&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;reports&l;/a&g; that &q;&l;span&g;Other institutions have adopted a model that ranks departments according to productivity and divides them into five groups, with the bottom 20% eliminated or reorganized.&q;&l;/span&g;


&l;div&g;&l;span&g;And&a;nbsp;&l;a href=&q;https://study.com/articles/Budget_Cuts_Continue_to_Threaten_College_Humanities_Programs.html&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;Study.com&l;/a&g;&a;nbsp;puts things succinctly: &l;/span&g;&l;/div&g;


&l;div&g;&l;span&g;It&s;s clear that the humanities offer invaluable benefits to both society and the economy. But fostering knowledge, creativity, innovation and critical thinking is difficult to measure against the monetary value of patents and grants. And as long as the debate is centered around a short-term need for more dollar signs, the humanities may continue to face deep cuts in American academia.&l;/span&g;&l;/div&g;&l;/blockquote&g;

&l;div&g;If cost-benefit analysis becomes the only measure of worth for universities, then we are faced with a true cultural crisis. Institutions of higher education don&s;t just turn out worker bees; they are the repositories of human history and culture. Eliminating subjects without careful consideration deprives students of connections to the past, present and future. They will be set adrift in an eternal &q;now&q; that assumes technology will somehow solve all our problems and the &q;market&q; will determine what&s;s important to know. They will have nothing to think with.&l;/div&g;


&l;div&g;In an era when attacks on knowledge, facts, science and expertise seem to be growing more and more influential, we need all the cultural fortification we can get. Devaluing the role of the university devalues all of us.&l;/div&g;

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